Reviews and response

“This exquisitely beautiful and gripping film shows how modern education puts a straightjacket on the mind. It shook me awake, letting me see more clearly than ever before, the tragedy it inflicts on us all — with its regimentation, its stultifying abstractions, its prison-like exclusion of the natural world. Added to these insults, for Ladakhis, as with other indigenous peoples, come clear messages of their cultural and linguistic inferiority, the more quickly to replace curiosity with obedience, self-confidence with conformity. And an age-old fabric of wisdom and ecological intelligence begins to disappear…. An impeccable and gorgeous piece of work.”  
~ Joanna Macy, author, World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal

Schooling the World raises fundamental questions about the universal necessity and goodness of a particular form of modern schooling which has come to stand for education today. With a rare, philosophical sense for the truth, the documentary reflects on the alienating impact of schooling not just on children but also on adults in indigenous contexts such as Ladakh. The different yet equally devastating context of schooling in America is also highlighted. Poignant and deeply insightful, this is a must-see film for anyone interested in the meaningful upbringing of children and the future of human civilization.”  – Nosheen Ali, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

“An extremely thought-provoking film.” – Cambridge University International Development Society.

“An important and fascinating movie.”  – Sir Ken Robinson, author, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

“Every teacher and prospective teacher should watch and discuss Schooling the World.”  – Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Schools

“Powerful, effective, direct, clear… and at the same time poetic, subtle, delicate, tender.” – Gustavo Esteva, education activist and co-founder, Universidad de la Tierra, Oaxaca, Mexico

“Painful, provocative, and oddly exhilarating.”  – Paul Campbell, Director, International Baccalaureate Conference of the Americas

“A film of profound insights and the quest for hope in the thick of much violence by mainstream cultures against the marginalized and the silenced peoples of the world …   Challenging, courageous and thought provoking.”  – Dr. Madhu Suri Prakash, Professor of Education Philosophy, Pennsylvania State University

“Those of us fighting for environmental or social justice, or even fighting for justice for indigenous peoples, too often feel that getting every child into school is a solution to the problems we face. This extraordinary and powerful film helps us see how school systems both reflect and amplify capitalism’s exploitative economy: the culture of objectification and control that underlies the economic exploitation of people and the planet is also deeply embedded in the industrial school system and its treatment of children. This film reminds us that universal schooling is rapidly unraveling saner ways of living all around the world.” – Derrick Jensen, author,  Endgame,  A Language Older than Words

Schooling the World should be obligatory viewing for international development agencies who send out young people to ‘educate’ the other world. The documentary shatters the myth that we cannot learn from developing countries and that our education system is the best.  It should also be viewed by decision makers in the developing world who think that everything ‘foreign’ is better. Having worked in China for nearly 20 years I am appalled to see how we are producing thousands and thousands of business managers with a western outlook, who will ultimately hit a dead end, without the jobs they built their dreams on, and thus produce a frustrated mass of population. This documentary asserts what I believe passionately –– that our world is an interesting place to live because of the diversity of culture and heritage.”  – Dr. Jayanta Guha,  Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences, University of  Québec

“Stunning! I couldn’t wait to show it to my students. It carries a compelling message to those of us here in a developing nation that is struggling against so many of the same issues portrayed here.  – Henry Ferguson, teacher at American International School of Mozambique

“If only I still had students… This is one of the days I wish I hadn’t stopped active teaching…  This is one of the teaching and learning opportunities for my English class I would have certainly grasped with my students to make them reflect on school and learning.”  – Sigi Jakob, former teacher and education blogger

“Wow. Incredible. I teach these texts and critical events to my highly privileged college students, and at first they are skeptical. This is so much more powerful… Visually, also  stunning.”  –  Kirsten Olsen, educator and author, Wounded By School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning

“Carol Black’s documentary prompts university students, who are often being encouraged to go and teach in the so-called “developing world”, to consider difficult reflexive questions while opening up vital lines of inquiry concerning the politics of cultural and developmental relations and the global implications of the capitalist-modernization project including the related education/schooling model (Education For All) being un-critically exported to these regions.  This documentary is both pedagogically useful and politically revealing for teachers and students alike, and is especially appropriate for graduate and senior undergraduate classes in education and the humanities and social sciences.”  – Dip Kapoor, Ph.D.,  Associate Professor, International Education, University of Alberta

“The implications of this short film are enormous, and the discussion it engendered … made it a highlight of the festival.”  – Charles Donelan, The Santa Barbara Independent

“Surely the most radical documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year.” – Volkmar Richter, Vancouver Observer


  1. Professor PlanasProfessor Planas05-15-2012

    “Surely the most radical documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year.” – Professor Planas

  2. KaislearKaislear02-03-2013

    While I felt the documentary was generally good I couldn’t help but cringe every time the word education was misused. Sure we can all agree that colonial education was bad, even that western education and capitalism do massive damage to individual humans and planet Earth itself. However, this film was grossly lacking in its ability to offer constructive criticism when compared to the massive amounts of complaints it had with “education” in general. I totally agree that blindly giving aid and enforcing cultural norms on others is downright stupid and unhealthy. However the overall feeling I got was that you would have the world get rid of education all together, which I completely and entirely disagree with. Alongside the blatant propaganda-styled visuals and music, it annoyed me that the word education was slandered and defaced. Yes, western education blanketed across the globe is bad, that is self-evident enough itself, but education can be positively used as well; it’s not a black and white issue and it is much more complex than your film makes it out to be. All the word education means is a method of transmitting information from one generation to the next; I completely agree that colonial education should be wiped from the face of the earth but that doesn’t mean that education in the broader sense should be as well; and believe me there is a difference. I would have liked the video much better if it were less extremist, offered constructive criticisms for the direction we could go with education, and showed some of the positives to education; instead all I got was angered by the clear lack of knowledge, thought, and insight. I completely agree that culture is important and should be preserved but I disagree entirely that education is a whole-heartedly negative thing. This is what your film implies and frankly it’s dead wrong.
    Western education across the globe = bad (yes everyone can agree)
    Educating the world about things like health, culture, tolerance, respect, environmental importance, ecosystems, sustainability, nutrition, and love of the human condition = good (and your film entirely missed this aspect.)
    Sorry dear but education doesn’t simply just mean westerners training other people. The villagers were “educating” their children to be able to do farm work, teaching them how to live. A world without education is a world without culture and your film entirely demonized the word education which is scary and detrimental to me.
    One question I was dying to ask you during the entire movie: What would you have as the alternative to education if it is indeed such a negative thing?

    • Carol BlackCarol Black02-04-2013

      Dear Kaislear –

      Thanks so much for your comments. I understand that you feel that the film “implies” that “education is a whole-heartedly negative thing.” I think if you have the opportunity to view the film more carefully, you will see that it does not say this at all. Very early on, Wade Davis says, “Through our cultural myopia, we think that we educate our kids, we send our kids to school, we have a form of enculturating kids into our society, which is education. And peoples who donʼt mimic those same patterns of education somehow donʼt educate their kids. Well, of course, that is absurd.” In other words, Davis’ point is identical to yours –– he is saying that all people educate their children, and that education is a necessary and valued part of all human cultures. He is simply saying that the form of schooling used in modernized societies is not the only valid form of education. Similarly, Rinchen Dolkar points out, “Before modern schooling, our education focused on the spiritual teachings…But now the emphasis is on material success. People go to school so they can make a lot of money, have a big house, drive a nice car. The whole idea of learning has been turned around to mean, “How can I make a lot of money?” In other words, she is pointing out that the traditional forms of education had certain positive aspects which are being de-emphasized in modern schools.

      The important thing to understand is that Schooling the World does not have the scope to present a complete portrayal of Ladakhi life and culture nor a detailed portrayal of the pros and cons of institutional schooling. Rather, the film simply attempts to raise a set of questions around the commonly held assumption that every child in the world must go to school. The glancing critique of institutional schooling in the film is there simply to unsettle the unquestioned assumption of superiority which leads people to believe that school must be imposed on every child on the planet. The brief portrait of Ladakhi life is simply intended to convey that the traditional culture has sufficient depth, complexity, and beauty that it deserves to be respected — not “preserved” as a museum piece – but respected and engaged with as equal in value and intellectual stature to modernized cultures.

      In the dominant public discourse discourse about universal education, it is school which is romanticized, and the film is intended as a counterbalance to that. School is continually presented as the vehicle for universal enlightenment and advancement –– a rosy vision which overlooks the chronic and severe problems of inequity, boredom, alienation and failure which plague this institution wherever it goes, and which consistently complicate whatever advantages it may bring. The intent of Schooling the World is to present another side to this picture, and to raise a serious discussion about the validity of other ways of understanding the world and of educating children.

      For more on this, and on some of your other points about constructive alternatives to modern schooling, please see our “Frequently Asked Questions” pages, particularly Questions 3 and 5.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  3. julia lunnjulia lunn03-13-2013

    Visually beautiful film and thought provoking subject. One can’t help think of London during the industrial revolution and wonder if the lives of the British have actually improved since that time.

    Having been to Ladahk in 1996, I appreciate the concern of having that beautiful, thoughtful culture damaged. However, the film does not address war torn countries, countries where women are treated with brutality and the idea that education has been a means of escape for many in those place.

    Further, the slums in Delhi shown in this film, are not full of Ladakhi people..they are full of Indians from Rajastan and other desperately poor parts of India. Can we easily blame western education and colonialism on those slums? Perhaps, but that is another documentary. The footage of these slums in this film is misleading.

    I also think the film makers are manipulative in their use of Heidi’s interview. Heidi is a well intentioned person, misguided, if you adhere to the film makers ideas, but well intentioned non the less. It is not in the Buddhist tradition to treat a person, who so generously granted an interview and so eagerly jumped in to try to better the lives of people, with such nastiness. Shame on you for being so mean.

    Having said all of the above-I am not a supporter of western education. It is failing many students in the west and will certainly fail students elsewhere. Our children attend a so-called international school and we have found it to be nothing but a regurgitation of the US school system. The majority of the teachers are white westerners with a western point of view requiring our children’s success to be measured by western educational benchmarks.

  4. Carol BlackCarol Black03-14-2013

    Hi Julia:

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

    You are correct that the film does not address “war torn countries and countries where women are treated with brutality,” but we do discuss some of these issues in our “Frequently Asked Questions” on the website and in our blog post “Three Cups of Fiction.”

    The essential point to realize is that school is a generally a poor mechanism for helping children in these tragic situations, since the majority of them will fail in school – girls included. So while a tiny percentage may benefit, the vast majority have simply added a new punishing predicament to their existing troubles. You can’t underestimate how truly cruel it is to tell a desperately suffering child that she can have a better life if and only if she can succeed at academics — especially since it is extremely well-documented that emotional stress and cultural conflict make academic success vastly more difficult. The despair generated by this message, which makes the child who fails believe that it is her own deficiency which causes her failure and thus her poverty and oppression, is felt around the world from urban slums in North America to refugee camps in Africa to mega-slums in India to tiny villages in Asia.

    The slums of Delhi are of course not filled with Ladakhi people (since the entire population of Ladakh is only a small fraction of their size) but they are absolutely swollen with people from all over India who have left viable rural agricultural livelihoods in the pursuit of an illusory “better life” in the city. The phenomenon depicted in Schooling the World – in which rural children go to school and learn contempt for agricultural livelihoods without gaining the skills which would give them decent employment in an urban environment ––is very real, not only all over India but all over the world. Martyn Namorong of Papua New Guinea has called it “The Education Trap.”

    We appreciate your empathy for Heidi, who as you say is a well-intentioned person. We are not Buddhists and won’t debate Buddhist ethics with you, except to say that our understanding is that the Buddhist idea of compassion is rooted in an accurate and clear perception of reality. “Compassionate” action which is based in delusion will often have unintended harmful effects. To make this clear is, in fact, the real purpose of the film. So we have not manipulated or misrepresented anything in Heidi’s statements, but simply juxtaposed them with images of the actual outcomes of her actions. She spoke of “working in the fields” as though it were a terrible and degrading fate, and of working in a call center in Delhi as a far preferable outcome. This type of attitude causes so much harm to rural people around the world that we felt it was important to challenge it even at the risk of causing some discomfort to Heidi. This is an ethical dilemma often faced by documentary filmmakers, who frequently cause some degree of embarassment or discomfort to individuals in order to elucidate a reality that ideally has a larger social purpose.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond thoughtfully to the film. Its purpose is to open a conversation, not to provide all the answers, and we appreciate your thoughts.

  5. LesleyLesley11-04-2015

    What is the most worrying thing is that by the time the western world has learnt it’s terrible mistake most of these other cultures will have gone for good. Very sad. Who are we to think we are right and everyone else must follow us! Makes me feel quite ashamed to be a westerner.

  6. ClaudeClaude02-04-2016

    Thank you for putting in words and images what I have known for a long time, inside me, but did not manage to put it so clearly as you did.

    My thoughts about the people that want to help (as demonstrated in the documentary):
    westerners are so disconnected from their inner identity that when they are among connected people they become really insecure and uncomfortable, that unconsciously they project their own discomfort by wanting to help through converting others to their own image, so that at last they can feel comfortable again.

    If one has doubt about that, ask yourself if you have ever seen someone living with inner harmony, trying to propagate their own way of living onto others?? I have not.

    Just my grain of salt.

  7. Tom LivanosTom Livanos04-24-2016

    I write this comment with the aim of sharing some of my education (as well as lack thereof) in economics. I do so on the chance that it may be of interest to fellow viewers. I am thankful if it is read and considered. Alas, as with any knowledge, I cannot eat it, drink it, breathe it, excrete it…..

    I was schooled* in an ultra- recent (by planetary standards) and westernised system. Location: metropolitan Sydney, Australia. I then went on to study economics and accounting at a mainstream university. I then did post-graduate studies and worked for banks, fund managers, financial planners etc. In all this, I did not learn the roots of the word economy. Very simple: management of one’s house. Similarly, ecology may be thought of as ‘awareness of one’s house’. If we want full employment, as business leaders and politicians keep telling us… well, we can have it – for all time. Learning about this wonderful and wondrous planet we call home would, on its own, keep all of humanity busy for as long as we exist. Furthermore, it would give us the necessary foundation (i.e. awareness) on which we can have a healthy economy.

    I only discovered the roots of the word economy when I looked it up on my own about a decade after I completed my post-graduate studies. I now see that indigenous cultures had an economy. This is also referenced in this documentary and others like it e.g. ‘The Economics of Happiness’. This understanding also puts a lie to the possibility of economic growth, let alone in perpetuity. Planet Earth is a rock, not a balloon. Factors such as light emanating from the sun, the pull of gravity on rivers, the photosynthetic processes within plants have remained constant for a long time – certainly longer than we humans have been here (two seconds to midnight). One cannot achieve eternal economic growth any more than one can eternally inflate the size of a snooker ball. Yet “the need for economic growth” is a basic precept by which we are sold the westernised worldview.

    Another is the spreading of fear i.e. that we must action x, y and z so as to save our economy from going bankrupt. This takes the propagation of misinformation to a whole other level. First of all, we invented money. We invented it. It did not exist for at least the first 93% of our time on Earth. We are the only species which makes use of it. Second, we have more money today than we have ever had. Ever. Throughout all of human history. If we humans have problems, a lack of money is not one of them. Yet, our solution to everything seems to have become, well, we need more money/we must remain ever wary of going bankrupt. The analysts in this documentary – both “educated” and “uneducated” – have something of a grasp on the ridiculousness of this viewpoint. Money, from the time it is first issued, represents a debt by one person to another. Even historically, that is how it developed. When you then allow interest to be charged (something contrary to the teaching of many religions), well, a foundation of never-ending depletion is implemented into the system. We deplete our relations to one another and we deplete the materials of the Earth – not to mention the processes which sustain our life and the life of future generations.

    Getting to the theme of this documentary: if anyone is to relocate somewhere, well, that is all well and good. Each one of us is free to do so. By the same token, it is the visitor’s responsibility to learn the ways of the locals; not the other way ’round.

    More generally, indigenous approaches to life result in a healthier and more sustainable world than the modern, corporate, westernised approach to living. Only one illustration is required: there is no way that indigenous populations of the world were on the cusp of coming up with atomic bombs just before colonisation took place. Yet, atomic bombs are what we have today. And we can blow ourselves up an arithmetically nonsensical number of times. That fact, in and of itself, is a perpetual form of violence.

    Something has to change.

    Yours sincerely,
    Tom Livanos.
    Armidale, New South Wales, Australia.
    Monday 25 April 2016.

    * A term I use deliberately and, as this documentary did, distinguish it from educated.

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